|Essoyes en Champagne "A nice peaceful place with some good light..."|
A guest post by Janet Hulstrand
Janet is writer, editor, teacher, and writing coach. Though she is based in the U.S., she spends a good deal of her time in France, teaching American literature in Paris and “writing from the heart” in Essoyes (ESS-wah), a beautiful little village in the Champagne region. I invited her to tell our readers a little bit about Essoyes in this post.
|Writing from the Heart students with Essoyean friends (photo by Janet Hulstrand)|
Essoyes, in the southernmost part of the Champagne region, very close to the border of Burgundy, is both a remarkable little French village, and a typical one.
|In the streets of Essoyes (photo by Renee Johnson)|
One reason it is remarkable is because in the early twentieth century it was home to Pierre Auguste Renoir, the famous Impressionist painter, and to his son, Jean, the great filmmaker.
But while the people of Essoyes are justifiably proud of their connection with the Renoir family and the fact that the Renoirs spent some of their happiest times here, it is also a typical French village like so many others, in which day-to-day life unfolds not so differently than it did back when the Renoirs made their home here.
Which is to say that early in the morning the fragrant scents of freshly baked bread are wafting through the streets of the town; gradually the streets come alive at an increasingly brisk pace until around noon, when everyone scurries to complete their rounds before the shops close down for several hours. People eat their meals together, for the most part en famille, then rest, or return to work at a leisurely pace. In the late afternoon the town becomes lively again for a few more hours, then it’s time for the evening meal and the end of the day, which stretches quite late, especially for people who get up so early. But then the French enjoy their days, so the length of them is not such a problem.
And of course…Essoyes is in Champagne. Which means that the champagne flows freely at any special event, as well as at many everyday ones.
|Students enjoying their welcome to Champagne (photo by Janet Hulstrand)|
There are so many interesting and fun things to see and do in and around Essoyes: there’s the recently opened Centre Renoir, and Renoir’s studio, open to visitors for most of the year. There’s the lovely little town itself to explore, with several art galleries and studios having opened in the past few years. (My favorite is the Ateliers du Onze, where artists Anne Fierobe and Denis Herbillion display and sell their work in what they call a “museum of living artists,” and who welcome visitors with great warmth and interest.)
There are also, of course, caves to visit, and dégustations du champagne to engage in, both in Essoyes and in the surrounding villages. There is nearby Troyes, a magnificent départementale capital that boasts several fine museums as well as one of the largest and most magnificently restored quartiers of medieval half-timbered architecture in France. (There is also great bargain-hunting in the warehouse stores on the edge of town for those with a different idea of having fun.) There are historical sites to see, with connections from the times of the Romans to French resistance activities during World War II. There are beautiful lakes and forests to enjoy the great outdoors in, in a variety of ways.
All this is not that far away from Paris (less than three hours), and is even closer to Dijon.
|A typical dessert at Hotel des Canotiers (photo by Lee Isbell)|
But my students come mostly to get away from it all. (Whatever “it” may be.) So they tend to stick pretty close to Essoyes, enjoying their magnificent meals at the Hotel des Canotiers, with its breathtaking sunset views of the village and surrounding hills; enjoying the chance to meet some of the many friends I’ve made in Essoyes in the more than 30 years since I first worked there as a grape picker during the vendange; enjoying the slower pace of life and the chance to simultaneously find the time to be inspired and a place that offers inspiration.
I fell in love with Essoyes when I first discovered it, and it has drawn me back time and again in a variety of ways through the years. I love having the chance to introduce new people to this wonderful, typical little French village: I’ve yet to encounter someone who doesn’t fall in love with it just the way I did.
Here’s more on the experience of being in Essoyes by a couple of my students from Writing from the Heart, Lee Isbell and Renee Johnson.
|Spring in Essoyes (photo by Janet Hulstrand)|